Monday, January 11, 2010

Finish it, Sarah: fear and writing

Since I don't have the level of compulsion I once had I have to coax myself to keep at it. I refer to fiction. I'm this close (close) to completing From the One Side of Heaven (2 novellas). And balking.

A few months ago I had a deal with another writer. I emailed him every day after I'd put in two hours. By return email I got a Fabulous! or Keep it up! This didn't need to know anything about what I was writing, which helped as getting into it would detract from the simple reward. It was great and I rarely missed a day. However, after thirty days, my remarkably generous friend threw in the towel.

He wasn't angry or put out but suggested it was time to move on and I couldn't disagree. I imagine it would be hard to keep getting those emails while working on your own stuff, a novel in his case. He went off to a writers' colony. I maintained the momentum for a bit then lost it. The holidays set in.

Then I wrote a Facebook status about my fear of finishing the novella. The support, by way of friends' encouragement to keep going, is there. I'm back to writing two or so hours
most days. I'm not quite as assiduous as I was last year, but I'm doing it. I don't know what I'm afraid of--seeing it's a bad piece of fiction or the seeming impossibility of selling it. "Because cells in the brain are constantly transferring information and triggering responses, there are dozens of areas of the brain at least peripherally involved in fear."* There must be various areas involved in success and stamina too. Odds are overcome daily. My finishing doesn't even qualify as an "odd." I'm a writer. A smartie.

Last week I ran into a woman I hadn't seen for a few years. "Sarah." She grabbed my arm. "I have to make an amend." I had not a clue. "When you gave me those stories to read---" (I'd given her copies of two of my published short stories a few years back and she'd never said a word about them) "I thought they were beautiful." She writes for magazines. Good magazines. We hugged. On my way home I broke down crying twice. It would have been good to hear that a few years ago but I have a feeling it helped me more to hear it now.

I mentioned I have short story collection I want to publish. "You'll do it this year," she promised.

All I have to do is show up. And when I don't, get support. And when I don't, ask someone else for help. Or follow Berryman's advice [From "Berryman" by W. S. Merwin, in
Opening the Hand]:

he suggested I pray to the Muse
get down on my knees and pray
right there in the corner and he
said he meant it literally,

The next step will become evident. Thanks for listening.

*"How Fear Works" --


  1. Thanks, Dan. Had no choice but to work today. The ceiling fell in my bathroom. The distraction of writing...

  2. I keep hoping Bukowski is right and my only responsibility in life is to pen a good page, but the cat keeps interjecting smells and complaints whilst the cupboards bare themselves like dryads in October stop-motion. Feel for ya on the ceiling thing. That's one advantage of the Divorce Box here (my hilariously plaid and wood-grained trailer) - maintenance is a snap, tarp, an' a shingle.